Every year, millions of visitors flock to South Florida for family vacations, to visit relatives or for a seasonal respite from brutal northern winters. Some own property or stay with family, but all others rely on accommodations at rented condominiums, beach houses and hotels.
These property owners have a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Our Naples premises liability lawyers know that when they do not and injury results, property owners may be held responsible. However, as the case of Parker v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising Inc. illustrates, property owners aren’t necessarily the only responsible party. Your attorney needs to make sure to explore all potential avenues of liability prior to filing a case, or else a finding of comparative fault by another party could result in reduced compensation for you.
In Parker, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of a defendant property owner, finding it not vicariously liable for the allegedly shoddy work of contractors who purportedly negligently constructed/installed a shower bench that caused plaintiff’s injury.
According to background provided in the decision, plaintiffs traveled from California to Tennessee to visit wife’s father. The husband, having suffered a previous logging truck injury, was paralyzed from the waist down. For this reason, the couple rented a handicap accessible room at a chain hotel franchise.
They checked in around 5 p.m., and as was customary when they traveled, immediately checked the bathroom. At the time, they noticed a gap between the wall and shower bench. He pressed down and shook it, and confirmed it appeared loose. Plaintiffs requested another room, but were told none was available. However, they were assured someone would come fix the bench.
Plaintiffs left for dinner. While they were gone, a maintenance worker entered and inspected the bench. He indicated he could find no obviously loose bolts or other problems, but nonetheless tightened the bolts. He then pressed down on the bench, and indicated it did not bow when he did so.
When plaintiffs returned, they too checked the bench and found it seemed stronger, and they no longer noticed the gap. However, the next morning, when husband showed for approximately 10 minutes, the bench collapsed suddenly, causing him to fall hard onto the floor. Later x-rays would reveal compression fractures to three vertebrae. He also began to suffer from pressure sores and more frequent urinary tract infections than before.
The couple sued the hotel, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. Defendant denied liability and raised a comparative fault defense, asserting it was the builder who negligently constructed and/or installed the bench who was responsible.
Plaintiffs amended the complaint to include builders as a defendant, alleging the bench was not installed according to manufacturer specifications, and this failure was concealed with sheetrock tile. The trial court later dismissed this particular claim because it was made after the statute of limitations had expired.
Defendant hotel owner then moved for summary judgment, arguing the builder was responsible and he had no actual or constructive notice of the defect and further no duty to inspect the builder’s work, particularly when the defects were concealed. He added he had never received any prior complaints about the bench, and no other handicap bench in the facility had collapsed prior to this.
The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and plaintiffs appealed. Appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling, finding property owners aren’t generally liable for injuries sustained as a result of a contractor’s negligence, unless he or she had actual or constructive knowledge of the danger.
In an appeal to the state supreme court, plaintiffs argued the work doctrine exception, asserting the hotel franchise owner was vicariously liable for the builder’s negligence when he took possession of the hotel and accepted the quality of the builder’s work.
However, recent case law in Tennessee has seen a shift away from the work doctrine exception, instead finding the independent contractor should not be released of liability simply because a property owner has “accepted” his or her work.
Therefore, the grant of summary judgment in favor of property owner defendant was upheld.
If you have been injured in a Naples hotel accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Parker v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising Inc. , Sept. 12, 2014, Tennessee Supreme Court
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Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc. – “Unconscionable” Liability Waivers Won’t be Enforced, Aug. 26, 2014, Naples Premises Liability Lawyer Blog